Building a Better Engineering Resume

For many engineers, few projects are more daunting than updating a resume. Years of education and work experience have instilled an appreciation of clarity and precision in you, yet writing a resume is a murky proposition. Which format should you use? How should you prioritize education and experience? Are objectives necessary?

The good news is that any of the myriad available templates can work for your resume. There’s no single standard format because many are equally good; just choose the one that appeals to you, and it will also appeal to your potential employer. As a rule, print resumes on high-quality but plain paper. Embossed, colorful or gilded pages may attract notice, but it’s the wrong kind of attention; stick with white or ivory pages.

Perfection Matters

You wouldn’t shrug off mistakes in any other project, so don’t leave them in your resume. It’s a bit of a stereotype that engineers prefer equations to English, but even the best writers sometimes make typos. Triple-check every word, and don’t rely solely on spelling checkers; they can’t flag incorrectly used words or typos that happen to spell otherwise valid words. Formatting bullet lists, centering address information and bolding dates should also be consistent throughout the resume. It’s worth investing in a professional resume preparer if you have any doubts about your grammar and syntax. Even if you’re fairly sure your commas and colons are correctly placed, have a few people you trust proofread the final product.

Condense Information

With resumes, longer is rarely better. Unless you’ve been in an industry for decades, your resume should be fairly compact; a page or two is enough to give potential employers the information they need. A concise resume packs more information into each line, giving enough detail to interest employers but not so much that it could stand in for an interview. Think about what the intended audience would consider important rather than what you feel makes you look best. You’ll have time to impress during the interview.

Customize Your Resume

One of the most common mistakes candidates make is sending the same resume to a dozen different hiring managers. No two jobs are exactly alike, so no two resumes should be identical. When responding to a job offer that emphasizes work experience, for example, move your employment history above your education and highlight achievements that relate to that specific job. For an opening that requires a specialized academic background, bring your educational bona fides to the top. If you include a cover letter, address a key point or two of the listing. By telling hiring directors what caught your eye, you create a hook on which you can hang signs pointing to your expertise.

Be Specific

Quantifying your achievements and painting a clear picture of your performance at previous jobs is critical to your resume’s success. If your innovations saved a prior employer money, list how much you saved. Describe what you learned from that internship abroad or those post-graduate courses. Specify how many copies the game you designed have sold to date. Including these details about your accomplishments makes them more real to hiring directors and cements you as a top candidate.

Skip the Objective

Older resume guides recommend writing an objective, but these are quickly becoming obsolete. Hiring directors know every candidate’s primary objective is to find a job, so it’s just a space-filler. Instead, use that valuable resume real estate to write a brief summary. Two or three sentences outlining your education, experience or unique talents can serve as your highlight reel.

Be Honest

The temptation to embellish your resume can be great, especially when you worry that others might be gilding the lily themselves. Padding eventually shows, though, and those who incorporate half-truths and fluff in their resumes are easier to spot than they think. Many promising resumes fall apart during the interview process when the interviewer asks a question about a grandiose resume claim. Others lead candidates into jobs they aren’t well suited to do, leaving the job open again within a few months. It’s best to be scrupulously honest from the start.

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